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Building a Healthy Community

Tuberculosis (TB)

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Tuberculosis (TB)

What is TB?


Tuberculosis (say: too-burr-cue-low-sis), or TB, is a disease caused by a bacteria (or germ) called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs. But, TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.

Active TB disease: TB bacteria become active if the immune system your body's defense mechanism against infection can't stop them from growing. The active bacteria begin to multiply in the body and cause active TB disease. The bacteria attack the body and destroy tissue.

Latent (dormant or inactive)TB infection: In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the body is able to fight the bacteria to stop them from growing. In this case, the person does not feel sick, has no symptoms, and cannot spread TB to others. The bacteria are inactive, but they remain alive in the body and some people may become sick with it later if their immune systems become weak. This can occur as a result of substance abuse, diabetes, or other certain medical conditions.

How is TB spread?


TB is spread through the air from one person to another. All you have to do to get TB is breathe! The bacteria are put into the air when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected.

When a person breathes in TB bacteria, the bacteria can settle in the lungs and begin to grow. From there, they can move through the blood to other parts of the body, such as the kidney, spine, and brain.


Symptoms (active TB disease)

*a bad cough that lasts 3 weeks or longer
*pain in the chest
*coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm from deep inside the lungs)
*weakness or fatigue
*weight loss
*no appetite
*sweating at night


A skin test is the only way to tell if you have TB infection. The test is positive if a bump about the size of a pencil eraser appears on your arm. The bump will appear within 48 to 72 hours if it is a positive test. An x-ray of your chest can tell if you have damage to your lungs from TB disease.


This is a TB skin test being administered (Figure from


This is what a positive TB skin test looks like (Figure from


TB can be treated! Special drugs are out there to kill TB germs, and it takes at least 6 to 9 months to wipe them all out. Therefore, it is important to take all of your medication!

Works Cited for this Page

Additional Helpful Links on TB

Click here for printable fact sheet on TB

"Malamapono no na keiki i ka pae 'aina o Hawaii"~
Caring for the children of Hawaii